Binance, the world’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange, is making a $200 million strategic investment in Forbes, the 104-year-old magazine and digital publisher, CNBC has learned.
The funds will help Forbes execute on its plan to merge with a publicly traded special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, in the first quarter, according to people with knowledge of the deal.
Investors have grown skeptical of SPAC deals generally, and media deals in particular, in recent months amid the broader stock market retrenchment. Binance will replace half of the $400 million in commitments from institutional investors announced by Forbes in August, said the people, who declined to be identified before the transaction is announced.
That would make Binance one of the top two biggest owners of Forbes, which will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker FRBS, the people said. The crypto company will also get two directors out of nine total board seats, they said.
The move shows the increasing real-world influence of the crypto sector, which has seen surging valuations and minted a new class of billionaires amid global interest in digital assets. While crypto companies have gone public, affixed their names to sports arenas and flooded airwaves with celebrity endorsements, this is the sector’s first big investment in a traditional U.S. media property.
Forbes was founded more than a century ago by the grandfather of editor-in-chief and two-time presidential candidate Steve Forbes. In 2014, Forbes sold a 95% stake to Hong Kong-based Integrated Whale Media at a valuation of $475 million.
Zhao Changpeng, founder and chief executive officer of Binance, speaks during an interview in Singapore, on Nov. 19, 2021.
Wei Leng Tay | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Known for its flagship magazine and a digital publishing model that relies on contributors, Forbes has worked to diversify its revenue with licensing deals and e-commerce and direct-to-consumer efforts. The company says it reaches 150 million people through its content and events.
Forbes is also known for its annual rankings of the world’s richest business tycoons.
It’s a category that Binance founder and CEO Changpeng Zhao joined recently. Last month, the net worth of Zhao, who prefers to go by “CZ,” was pegged at $96 billion by Bloomberg News. The figure, a conservative estimate that excludes his personal crypto holdings, makes him easily the industry’s richest entrepreneur.
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The investment by Binance, founded barely five years ago, is an indication that Zhao believes content generation will be a growth area for Web 3.0 development. Web 3.0 refers to a more decentralized version of the internet that uses the blockchain, which also underpins cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens, or NFTs.
“This is the first step into a marketplace that has really high potential when it comes to adoption of Web 3.0-based tools,” said a person with knowledge of Binance’s strategy. “Our industry has seen a ton of growth and we think you’d have to be a fool to not position yourself in those sectors that are ripe for infrastructure investment.”
The company approached Forbes, which had been weighing options including an outright sale, after identifying three media and content platforms for potential investment, said the people.
Crypto insiders say they expect a deluge of deals this year as companies deploy the enormous sums of money raised in recent fundraising rounds.
Binance was founded in China in 2017 but lacks a physical headquarters. In a bow to regulators, it’s in the process of selecting a location for one.